I try like hell to be judicious with my attention, pricing my mental real estate far beyond the means of most mainstream media outlets. As such, I initially tried to avoid all the coverage of double-dimpled cop killer Chris Dorner’s bloodbath across Southern California; but since this is a uniquely insane story, and I’d been in that very same area not even one week before on my way out to the high desert, I made an exception.
Then the other day I heard about something called Team Dorner, which is apparently a social media movement coming out in support of the killer (and if reports are to be believed, a physical movement too, as there were supposedly some supporters picketing the area around Bear Mountain). As someone whose been on the business end of police bullying more than a few times in my youth, I readily share in a healthy disgust for any uniformed authority who overplays their hand at the whole command presence bit. However, the idea that anyone — let alone a team could identify with and endorse Dorner’s ultra-violent batshittery* and feel uninhibited enough to publicly vocalize it is very fucking disturbing to me. And yet, perhaps most disturbing of all is that I’m really not surprised. I should be, but I’m not.
After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this kind of thing. Joe Stack springs to mind: Stack was a domestic terrorist who registered a complaint with the IRS by landing his single-propeller airplane in the lobby of one of their regional office buildings here in Austin, Texas back in 2010. I remember worrying at the time that he may not be such a unique case. A week before the incident, I was sitting in traffic discussing the financial headlines of the day with my wife when I wondered aloud how many ticking time-bombs were being created as we spoke, (thanks to the economic fallout then unfolding courtesy of the ongoing circle jerk between DC and Wall St). I might not have guessed one would go off right in our backyard a week later, but in the end, again, I felt little if any surprise at the deed itself.
Nor was I surprised by the headlines that followed, including: To Some, Suicide Attack on IRS Made Pilot a Hero. Once upon a time, any attempt to frame such a troubled, vengeful soul as a martyr would have been considered at least as insane as the act itself. I mean, even as un-takeable as most graduate students are, nobody went around thinking Charles Whitman was a hero — not even Charles Whitman. The biggest difference between a killer like Whitman and these other two is their anti-authoritarian manifestos, which really amount to little more than promotional narratives for heinous misdeeds; copy created to market their sloppy hatreds and indiscriminate blood lust as something protagonistic. How about the victims who were never allowed the luxury of such solipsism? I’m thinking specifically of IRS employee Vernon Hunter — a family man and Vietnam veteran who was there at work the day Stack dropped in. I’ve always envisioned Vernon sustaining himself through the weekday drudgery of his government job with thoughts of the coming weekend; of getting home to his wife, or to his favorite meal that night, or to a project in the garage, or to his tunes. I’ve been that guy before; maybe you have, too. Only I was fortunate enough not to have some grandiose asshole who took himself way way too seriously come along and suddenly edit me out of the thing. “Oh, sorry…were you using that life? Yeah, I’m a hero with this really big point to make, so uh…if you could just skooch over there into oblivion for me…yeah, perfect! Thanks!”
Maybe I’m not surprised by these twisted shits and the people who love them because I’ve been buffeted by grizzly headlines long enough now to have grown a pretty hard bark; or maybe I’m not shocked because I fancy myself somewhat enlightened on the subject of human behavior. I certainly do feel I understand the fragile balances within the human psyche better than someone for whom human behavior is not at least a pet interest. I understand that every man and woman alive has the propensity for craziness and/or evil. I know we can all freak-out and behave irrationally if we have our buttons depressed in just the right configuration. Our thresholds differ, and in the case of Dorner or Stack, there may have even been a gland firing too much or not enough of something. And maybe that’s true of their supporters, too.
When that series of hurricanes tore through Florida a few years back, leaving hundreds of households without electricity, domestic violence in the region spiked. No cold beer; no TV; no AC; no internet connection. Erase these buffer mechanisms and a surprising number of seemingly rational people suddenly seem much closer to their tipping point than you might have ever realized. [Side caveat: a sizable percentage of the public are miserable, imbalanced and delicate — so watch your ass.]
A neighbor of mine at the time who was a law enforcement officer was visibly depressed as he relayed some of the awful scenes he’d been called out to; but like me, he didn’t seem especially surprised. I almost felt the urge to feign as though I were so as to seem less desensitized. What’s more, I kinda wished I genuinely could be.
I’m not longing for innocence lost or anything like that. It just seems to me that, as a society, our moral baseline is being moved at a rate which suggests undeniable decay. The nightmare scenario then is that the more these bloody infractions against humanity are received with calloused resignation — or warped veneration — the less pronounced their real and very negative impact upon civilization might seem, thereby contributing to a vicious downward spiral (and an ever intenser desire to steal away someplace small and sleepy and watch old Delmer Daves flicks).
* I’m nuts about Bernard Hermann scores, tall brunette women, and late 60’s VW Beetles; but I’ve never been a member of Team Bundy.